On Bonaire, the all-round art and culture provider Fundashon Plataforma Kultural teamed up with Mental Health Caribbean to set up the project Kultura pa Tur: Culture for Everyone. Supported by subsidy provided through our Making Culture Together programme, the project offers lessons in music and visual arts to people suffering an addiction or a psychological vulnerability, as well as to their close relatives and children. The goal is to offer this target group a way to start engaging with the community again.
Marieke Knol is the managing director and co-founder of Fundashon Plataforma Kultural (FPK), and one of the driving forces behind the project. ‘Our focus is especially on vulnerable people,’ she explains. ‘There’s a relatively large target group on Bonaire, and with such a small population, virtually everyone knows each other. As a result, almost everyone will be confronted at some point in time by mental health issues, either directly or indirectly. But it also means that we can achieve a lot of impact through our work. We have adopted the slogan “Create your own world”, since you can do everything in art and culture.’
The project caters to three groups: children receiving mental health treatment, adults with a psychological vulnerability and/or addiction, and their close relatives. Participants can follow a series of lessons in visual arts or music (or both), offered by local artists or musicians who receive training in working with these target groups, and should in time be able to do so independently. The lessons are given in Hòfi Kultural cultural centre, as much as possible.
The right partner
The preparations took around one year. Marieke: ‘We designed the project together with Christine Alvarez, the project team leader on behalf of Mental Health Caribbean (MHC), and process supervisor Benjamin van Loenen. It’s really a pioneering project.’
Christine immediately embraced the idea. ‘I’ve worked here for nine years now, we are responsible for the mental health service for Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. Before the corona pandemic, patients’ relatives told me how hard it is that there’s a taboo on mental health issues and addiction, and that patients are seen as difficult or unpredictable. This makes it very daunting for people to participate in activities. This project came along at just the right moment, and I felt that it offered a very inviting and accessible approach.’
‘Christine knew our organisation – that’s another advantage of being small-scale,’ Marieke laughs. ‘We could also have sought a partner in youth care or in young people’s or old people’s organisations, but we wanted to offer a safe place to a large number of people with a psychological vulnerability. MHC has only been around for ten years, but in that time it managed to build up a huge system from the bottom up. The way they work, you notice that they are adept at pioneering.’
Marieke took care of the grant application. ‘FPK has been familiar with the Cultural Participation Fund for some time, on account of other projects. The good thing about the recent developments in online communication is that I was able to attend the online meetup, just before the programme started accepting applications. I also talked to Gino, the adviser; it was very easy and comfortable to request his advice. Here on the islands, it’s much harder to find supplementary funding.’
Always remain open and try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re doing it for, and remain flexible. You might feel dejected if just two children show up for a session, but instead you can say that ‘here are two children we can help!’
Align with each other
Marieke strongly recommends that organisations start working together at an early stage. ‘The project must mesh well with the partner’s structure. It’s not enough to say, “just send us a bunch of children”. MHC has treatment groups based on diagnoses and ages, and we have aligned our programme with this system to make it more durable. There’s a greater chance of having a real impact, since it almost becomes part of the treatment. We don’t offer music therapy, but the effect is therapeutical nonetheless.’
Christine concurs: ‘Participating colleagues are very enthusiastic. They also describe how the artists and musicians supervising the groups have learned about the target groups along the way. They are all locally based, so they can continue to do this for as long as there are resources to support it. The children really love it, and it’s wonderful to see a child grow from a shy little mouse to an active participant.’
local artist Rober
“I have learned even more about working with children. The more I do this work, the more I discover how each child really is different.”
Adjustments along the way
One of FPK’s sources of inspiration was a project that was previously supported through the Making Culture Together subsidy scheme, called Kunst op Recept. ‘They drew up a good action guide. From them we adopted the programme term of eight weeks, on the assumption that clients will then go on to join regular activities. But it turned out that there’s too little on offer here, so we need to engage our participants for a longer period. We also need more supervision on Bonaire: MHC does the intake, sends someone to join the activities, and certainly at first we discussed every session both beforehand and afterwards.’
Despite the delays caused by the corona pandemic, the project is progressing very well. Marieke: ‘It’s a development track, supported through track 2 of the subsidy scheme, so I monitor whether we are achieving the desired effects and targets, and make adjustments where necessary. Instead of working with a single local artist or musician per group, we now work with two. These people have also gone through quite a process and can learn from each other, which is a real added value. They have learned to work with this particular target group and now have enough tools at their disposal to use during their lessons. Benjamin was able to stay on the island longer than initially thought, so he managed to tutor all the musicians and artists. Now they can work independently.’
local artist Francis
“Wonderful. Good to have the process supervisor’s helicopter view, and to share observations that you can benefit from in practice.”
Geared to the group
MHC workers are responsible for the recruitment and selection of participants. ‘The whole organisation contributes,’ says Christine. She also encourages co-workers through the internal newsletter and person-to-person. ‘Still, many patients back away when day 1 approaches, because of the stigma attached to their issues. They don’t want to come, for fear of being seen by others. And some people are insufficiently stable, so that some of the motivated ones also drop out.’
Each group has its own limits. That’s why there’s a lot of flexibility built into the group. In an assisted living group, it helps to offer the programme in their own domestic environment. ‘As soon as one person joins in, the rest tends to follow more easily.’ Marieke: ‘In our senior citizens project 'Kunst door de brievenbus' (‘Art through your letterbox’), participants receive art assignments at home, and then share what they’ve made in a group. We want to start doing this with our groups of vulnerable adults as well. It can make it less daunting for them to visit our centre.’
Many participants in the children’s group are dependent on their parents to bring and fetch them. Christine: ‘You can really see the children perk up, even if they can’t do all the activities. The opportunity to simply be a child at some other place than home helps with the treatment as well.’
There were quite a lot of applications to join the group for close relatives. Christine: ‘We think that it does them a lot of good to have some time to themselves. Helping their family member often takes up so much of their time and energy. What we hope to achieve is that they first start coming for themselves, and after that start encouraging their family member to join.’
A guide with which to transfer the scheme to the islands of Sint Eustatius and Saba is in the making. MHC also operates there, and a regional knowledge centre has been established in Curaçao. Marieke: ‘We can share our knowledge through that network, and thereby boost the scheme’s long-term viability. We would love to set up something similar on the other islands and to really become a creative workshop that supports people’s recovery.’
‘It would be wonderful if we could roll this out throughout the region,’ Christine agrees. ‘But the care system is set up differently on Saba and Sint Eustatius, without daytime activities. Proper research is required to determine whether our approach would work there as well. We definitely think our colleagues there could stimulate clients in this way. The project is tailored so nicely to the target group and it enables them to meet other people, in another setting – it really means so much to them.’
What you really need is time to organise the scheme, to motivate people and to help them cross any thresholds they may perceive. Our project still offers so many possibilities, so you should set it up in a way that you can keep developing it further, preferably without any definite end date. For example: we have this project every Wednesday and you’re welcome to join.
Inspiration for the future
Some financial obstacles remain, however. ‘On Bonaire we can apply for subsidy once a year, for what is called a “care contract”, but the amount is so low that you’ll always remain a kind of project organisation,’ Marieke explains. ‘We would love to be able to set up long-term projects, for instance with the support of a four-year subsidy.’
The organisers found some inspiration for the future in the ‘Stadskamer’ in the Dutch town of Doetinchem. ‘Everyone can just walk in there to participate in creative activities. It doesn’t require a professional referral or diagnosis, but it does attract many care recipients. And every euro invested there saves two euros in the care sector. Hòfi Kultural also wants to be able to invite everyone in. So that all sorts of people can engage with art and culture together.’
Why do we support this project?
Programme adviser Jill: ‘Kultura pa tur stands out for how it works towards an attractive art programme in the target group’s interest. The participants are offered a (new) chance, thanks to how the professionals from the cultural and the social domain really team up for this. The application clearly describes the development steps, and also what is required specifically in terms of art, care and welfare in order to make cultural participation accessible for the target group. It’s marvellous how local artists are provided with training to effectively support the target group, and how the lessons learned are thoroughly evaluated, recorded and shared along the way. This is a prime example of Making Culture Together.’
How is the subsidy scheme tailored to the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands?
Gino: ‘In aligning the Making Culture Together subsidy scheme to local needs and opportunities, we were helped tremendously by the expertise and connecting qualities of Tibisay Sangkatsing Nava, a member of our advisory committee. But it remains valuable and necessary to speak with parties directly. Fortunately, they feel increasingly encouraged to contact the Fund with their plans and with spontaneous feedback. In collaboration with the other national culture funds, we are also conducting a pilot with a locally based coordinating office, the Prins Bernard Cultural Fund Caribbean Region. This office can refer applicants to the grant schemes offered by the national culture funds, and can put them in touch with the relevant advisers. The office can also inform the funds about developments and needs in the field.’
What can our advisers do for you?
Advisers Jill and Gino are here for organisations and independent professionals who wish to examine how they can set up such a collaboration (track 1 of the scheme) or who wish to further develop an existing collaboration (track 2).
Gino and Jill: ‘Although we are seeing an increase in the number of information requests and applications from the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, we want to further improve familiarity with the various subsidy schemes and the accessibility of our application process. We regularly discuss the challenges with applying parties, for instance regarding co-financing and local infrastructure. Finding a collaboration partner from another domain can also be difficult, for example for parties already operating at the intersection of art, culture and society. By talking about it we can usually come to a solution, taking the applicant’s local context as the starting point. Talking with an adviser can also help to get an idea in your head onto paper. For instance when the outcome of a process is still unclear. Or if it’s your first time to apply for subsidy.’